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Food Network and the Internet Part Four: Video
Sunday, December 30, 2007 | posted by Mike

Welcome to the final installment of a four part series: Food Network and the Internet...a short and (hopefully) not too wonky look at how the Food Network's current and possible future online strategies. This part will focus on video. Scroll down for parts one through three.

OK...after promising you "a few short thoughts" and then droning on for upwards of 3000 total words (I don't think I'm exaggerating), today's topic will be considerably shorter. That's mostly because it's an area in which I don't claim to possess a ton of experience or expertise.

The dramatic rise over the past five years or so in the number of individuals accessing the Internet via high-speed connections, either at work or in the home, has been a welcome development for those in the entertainment industry. Or at least it should have been. A lack of foresight on the part of these media entities has led to two major black eyes. First, as an overreaction to the sharing of music files online, large companies instituted a number of digital rights management measures that have failed miserably and generated considerable ill will among the public, so much so that online outlets are now moving back to DRM-free formats. Secondly, the current writers' strike is a result of the lack of a comprehensive way of sharing the earnings from online video.

But despite these issues, online video is clearly the future of entertainment delivery, especially as we move toward a system wherein there is little difference between the various components of your home entertainment system (computer, television, DVR, DVD collection).

So, we know that Food Network has a ton of great content and a not-so-great way of displaying it on its site. I wouldn't be overly concerned about that because they'll get it figured out sooner or later. Either they'll come up with another player interface or they'll figure out a way to parter with someone who can provide the technology.

What is really interesting to the future of the network is the point of a post at Silicon Alley Insider. That post takes a broad look at the online strategy of the network, but pays particular attention to how the Network could become a community for individuals to share their own recipe and cooking videos.
Next step: Set up the best food-video sharing site, where the network's legions of fans could upload their best Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray, or Iron Chef impersonations. Homemade cooking shows hardly require a big budget -- almost any digital camera will shoot adequate video -- and food is a cheap prop. The best uploads could even get some time on the cable network, giving fans more incentive to participate. There won't be any TV cannibalization -- viewers will still watch the cable net to stay in touch with their favorite celebrity chefs. Any because there shouldn't be any lewd or objectionable content, it should be easy to advertise alongside the content.
Long-time readers know that I'm a big fan of the DIY food video folks out there, some of which I link to over on the left. There is a lot of talent out there. Perhaps one of them may become the next big thing. But, at the very least, there is good, compelling content that would be ripe for the type of community that is mentioned above.

So there you have it. I think the thing that sticks out most is that the Food Network is well-suited to taking advantage of the Internet thanks to their wealth of content and personalities, a strong brand and a viewing public that is united by its passion for food. Look for the folks in charge to take advantage of the Web in order to provide a customizable, robust and interactive experience for its fans.



Food Network and the Internet Part Three: Blogs
Thursday, December 27, 2007 | posted by Mike

Welcome to part three of a four part series: Food Network and the Internet...a short and (hopefully) not too wonky look at how the Food Network's current and possible future online strategies. This part will focus on blogs. Scroll down for parts one and two.

On to a topic close to my own heart…blogging. One question that has vexed countless PR and Advertising professionals is how does one approach, work with and respond to content generated by bloggers (and message board posters, though they’ve been around for a while now). I can speak from personal experience that the Food Network (and a number of other shows/outlets) has done a very good job of interacting with blogs like TV Food Fan. They’re proactive in that I get all of the press releases and notices and they’re reactive when I have questions or requests. Despite the fact that I could run this site for 10,000 years before it’s seen by as many visitors as one issue of People, I’m not given the bum’s rush. I’m not sure how much they interact with other sites, but my strong guess would be that they’re equally helpful to any site that offers fair commentary on the Network.

So dealing with external blogs is one thing. But what all companies really want – and the topic of countless (mostly mind-numbing) conference sessions to which I’ve given entirely too much of my life – is an “official” blog that allows you to get your point of view out and respond (if necessary) to any conversations in the blogosphere. Car manufacturers and tech companies are often cited as the most successful sources of these blogs, which often feature high- or mid-to-high-level executives speaking directly to the reader in a personal, familiar voice. And they work because the people the companies choose to put out there are suitably wonky and knowledgeable, and so the reader gets good, insightful perspective. What these sites are not: PR flaks trying to pretend to be a blogger.

Food Network has taken only measured steps toward official blogs, and their efforts have not been strongly advertised. We spoke a while back about a blog run by the members of the Food Network kitchen, which fits nicely into the “behind the scenes” category and could conceivably have been quite entertaining. Actually, it is pretty good when it’s active and has something interesting to talk about, which isn’t very often, unfortunately.

The most logical choice for bloggers would be any of the on-air talent that possesses a familiarity with the Web and a conversational tone (and, frankly, enough time on his or her hands). In the time since I’ve been running this site, there have been a handful of good candidates. Alton Brown could do it, but does most of his talking over at his own site. George Duran actually had a blog on FN.com for a while. Chris Cognac had the Internet experience and writing chops. One of the supporting cast-members (GEOF MANTHORNE!!) of Ace of Cakes would be a perfect candidate, especially if it took the form of the semi-bitchy workplace blogs you see from some unfortunate office drone.

The problem is, as I have learned the hard way, blogging requires tremendous discipline and often languishes if it’s not mandated. The most consistent official blogs in food TV have been the Top Chef crew, whose posts come out like clockwork.

In the end, blogs by the talent are going to generate very good traffic and increased appreciation of the show. They’re a no-brainer. But we all know that the development of the Food Network brand is just as important as any of the individual show brands.

Another option – one that the Food Network has tried – can be a bit more delicate. There is always the possibility of bringing an outside blogger in-house or hiring a full-time blogger. FN went with the first option when they ran Adam Roberts of The Amateur Gourmet during the past season of Next Iron Chef. The results were good, but mostly because there likely is not a better, smarter or funnier full-time food blogger out there.

It looks like he was given quite a bit of leeway in what he wrote. That’s a good thing and a necessary thing for someone who would go back to their own blog with their independence. Because, that’s the thing…a blog run by a company – even if it claims “independence” – is a blog run by a flak. And, as such, it’s another PR/publicity organ – no more and no less.

Lest it sound like I’m saying this in a pejorative sense, I’d like to clarify that my day job is to be a flak. And I’m friendly with a former co-worker who runs a large company’s blog. He’s a flak, too, but he’s up-front about it and does a good job of writing from the perspective of a company employee and public relations representative while still preserving his individual voice and not lapsing too much into corporate-speak.

All of this illustrates the challenge for Food Network (and any other such entity) when they try to set up a blog. You can’t just take an existing blog like TV Food Fan, plop it down on FN.com and call it a Food Network blog. It would likely not work, and it would result in an awkward “I’m independent…but be sure to watch Food Network!” vibe. Likewise, you can’t just tell an intern in your publicity department to start blogging away.

For this to be a truly useful and truly credible blog, it would need to come from someone interesting, authoritative, able to communicate with the public and with an obvious bias. Why this last point? Because it doesn’t make sense to pretend objectivity. So, if I were looking for someone recognizable to be the official Food Network Blogger, who would it be? Easy: Bob Tuschman.

Yes, he’s probably too important to be fooling around with a blog. But the truth of the matter is that the most compelling “official” blogs are all run (and actually written…no cheating by handing it off to work the PR department!) but high-level officials who are able to use the venue as a way to communicate the big picture to outside readers.

If you’re going to do something like this (and I think it’s a good idea but not something you must do), don’t delegate it to someone without enough “juice,” don’t bring someone in from the outside who lacks the credibility and don’t rely on your talent, who are rightfully more interested in their own development than the Network’s. Put it into the hands of the person who can actually give something of value to the readers.

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Food Network and the Internet Part Two: Social Networking Sites

Welcome to part two of a three four part series: Food Network and the Internet...a short and (hopefully) not too wonky look at how the Food Network's current and possible future online strategies. Today's part will focus on social networking. The good news is that, as I promised yesterday, this post is shorter. The bad news is that it's shorter because I had to cut it in half. Look for part two (about blogging) later tonight. In case you missed it, check out part one.

Web 2.0. Consumer-Generated Content. Emerging Media.

Whatever you want to call it, it has become the holy grail of marketing and communications for corporations, media outlets and anyone wanting to generate positive buzz. Whether you’re talking about bloggers, social networking sites like My Space and Facebook or the multitude of online bookmarking services like Digg and del.icio.us, companies are spending considerable time and money thinking about, planning for and (slowly) wading into the deep end and becoming a player in a landscape for which the rules are still being written.

Some would have you believe that there is some magic bullet strategy, but the fact of the matter is that many of the same old rules apply. Most importantly, content is still king, and whoever provides the most compelling, consistent and original content – regardless of its format – will be able to use these new delivery methods to engage viewers even more closely than ever before. Those who don’t “get it” will be at a decided disadvantage when compared to competitors and run the risk of having their existing audience leave them behind.

The good news for the Food Network is that, although they’re not at the forefront of this movement, they have made some smart moves in the right direction. Besides…in this game, being at the forefront usually means you’re out there wasting money and showing everyone else how not to do it.

By now, we’re all well aware of the growing use of these tools. Who is using them? You are, of course. You’re here getting your information about a topic from someone who possesses a blog account, some motivation and (hopefully) an interesting point of view. This is as “consumer-generated” as it gets.

The most headline-grabbing aspect of this new media has been the social networking sites. Although these sites usually skew younger than the typical Food Network viewer, FN was able to take advantage of the My Space platform as a way to introduce the contestants from last season’s Next Food Network Star. The pages were well-produced, with extra photos and contestant-authored journal entries. You could go there and “friend” the contestants. As you would expect, the best pages were the ones that provided the most compelling content. Content is King.

My Space was an interesting choice for Food Network. It typically attracts a younger crowd than Facebook (of which I’m a member, and with which I’m much more familiar). But it has two advantages that Facebook and other social media sites lack. First, it’s seen as the service of choice for media outlets, particularly bands that want to get their music out. Second, it is an open profile page, and anyone (even non-members) can browse to the pages. I’m not privy to the internal numbers, but I’d say that from an outsider’s vantage point, it was a success. By relying on an existing service, choosing the most open option and then promoting the heck out of the pages, they were nicely able to integrate their communication and promotional efforts.



Rediscovering "A Cook's Tour"
Wednesday, December 26, 2007 | posted by Mike

I'm not sure if this is a commentary on the quality of the program or the lack of good shows in the genre currently on Food Network, but I'll be damned if A Cook's Tour -- mothballed for four or five years -- isn't still the most compelling travel show on the Network.

I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was that made it so fascinating until I realized it was the fact that he dislikes a not insignificant number of the dishes he tries. It's a very real and refreshing break from the relentless "WE LOVE IT ALL!!!!!!!" assessments we get from Rachael, Giada, the Deen Brothers, and Guy on their travel shows.

Sometimes there is more to be learned from the dish you don't like than the one you do.

That said, hearing him talk reverently about his formal Japanese meal was a wonderful thing.

I will say, however, that some of the cinematography and visual effects (especially that "jerky" effect in parts of the Japan episode) sure were dated. And Bourdain is clearly not the polished professional he now is, which makes me all the more mad at Comcast for denying me my Travel Channel.

If you saw the episode on Rio, you may have noticed that the show appeared to be dedicated to his guide Fabio. At the risk of passing along faulty info, a post over at Chowhound a few years back claimed that he was shot and killed during a carjacking.

UPDATE: Word on Fabio from Bourdain himself in a post from 2003. Scroll to the last post on the page.



Food Network and the Internet Part One: FoodNetwork.com

Welcome to part one of a three part series: Food Network and the Internet...a short and (hopefully) not too wonky look at how the Food Network's current and possible future online strategies. Today's part will focus on the Food Network's Website.

Running a Website isn't easy. I've been doing it professionally, semi-professionally and on a pro bono basis for ten years. That's probably about three lifetimes in Web-years. And I've learned that a Website, particularly one that represents a large company or presence, requires constant attention, nurturing and investment. Plus you have to balance the needs of the site with the needs of everyone else in the organization that wants to use it for his or her purposes. Plus you have to "keep up with the Joneses (i.e. the state of the art competitor sites)." Plus, every once in a while, you need to tear it down and build it back up. It's a strange and delicate combination of growing a temperamental plant while at the same time pruning its branches and harvesting its fruit -- but making sure that you don't prune or harvest too much.

In other words, here is my advice to you: Don't go into Web communication or marketing.

I kid (kinda), but it's helpful to keep in mind all of those competing interests when we talk about the state of the flagship Website of the Food Network.

The topic of FN.com (and for this series in general) came about from a couple of posts on some other sites a month or so back. One, from Adam over at Men in Aprons, took the Food Network to task for the cluttered state of the site's home page.

It's bulky and clumsy. It's packed so full of junk and ads that the site barely loads on my computer. You've tried to make it do so much with such a weak server, my tiny little eMac can barely stand to make the request. All I wanted to do was find a recipe from an episode of Everyday Italian, and you made me wait 5 minutes. That's 5 combined minutes from the time I requested your home pages, plus all the searching and page loading.

Look, my love, you need to trim it down. You have an incredibly popular cable channel with a companion web site. They need each other like I need you. But with all the gaudy graphics, databases, and ads, the side just loads too slowly. It seems that with all the ideas of what you COULD do, no one ever asked if you SHOULD do it.

Adam hits the nail right on the head. As a point of comparison, take a look at the FN site from one year ago, two years ago, three years ago and four years ago. In a nutshell, it's largely a series of variations on the same theme, but with a dramatic increase in the number of features, ads, content blocks and links to the online store. Adam's line (bolded by me) about COULD vs. SHOULD nicely illustrates how we got to where we are with the Food Network site.

You see, incremental and "on-the-fly" upgrades and additions to site may seem like a good idea at the time, but you end up with a bit of a Frankenstein's Monster of a site -- a patchwork of mismatched pieces with end up having a negative overall impact, mostly because they diminish the prominence of the most important content. In this case, it's the access to the Network's programs and personalities, which is what brought Adam to the site and which is likely the reason for a large number of visits.

I don't say this as a criticism of the way the site is run. This happens. It has happened to me on site's I've worked on. But the truth of the matter is that most often, the only truly effective way to counteract it is to go back to square one with a complete redesign. They can keep elements that work from the current site. If the features generate traffic, keep them. If the links to ads and the online store generate revenue, keep them. But what's missing from the site is the ability to identify the stars and programs that likely got the visitor there in the first place, and to quickly get to that content. Although FN.com may be aiming to be some sort of portal or destination for all things food, they would likely be better served by providing a better user experience -- getting visitors to the information they seek and then providing the harder sell.

Can we expect a comprehensive overhaul of the site? Well, if we look at the Network's sister sites, the answer is "possibly." HGTV's site has a similar look and feel. Fine Living also features a similar appearance, but does a significantly better job of limiting and organizing the information. DIY and Great American Country, however, sport a cleaner, more modern look. Whether or not the interactive group at Food Network rebuilds the site from the ground up, here's hoping that the next generation of the site goes in a more "minimalist" direction. We could go into the particulars of how we would tweak this part and move that content box, but that's besides the point. Besides, that's why the agencies get paid the big bucks!

So, that's the mother-ship. But a post by Jacob over at food network addict about a negative critique of the sub-site for Ace of Cakes illustrates another issue: the identity of individual shows within the overall site.

OK...the Ace of Cakes site's organiztion is pretty bad. How do you know it's bad? Upon arriving, you're greeted by a pop-up bubble that says: "Learn how to use this site by clicking this help button." No thanks! (That said, the AoC site is reasonably well-crafted and FAR from the most grievous abuse of Flash that I have seen...I challenge you to figure out how much a pound of whole bean coffee costs on La Colombe's site. Love your coffee, hate your site!)

But the important part of this story isn't that the Ace site is good or bad, but that it shows a willingness to build out a mini-site that reflects the identity of an individual program. For all of the talk of conformity and homogeneity at the Food Network lately, it's a smart strategy to provide an online space that pulls you into an online experience. If you look at the sub-sites of any of the broadcast network sites' tent-pole series (think Lost, Heroes, Gray's Anatomy), they're all fully-branded and provide content that enriches the viewing experience.

Food Network isn't just a television venture any more. It's now one of the key parts of Scripps Interactive. And if there is one thing that I've learned about the Web, it's that people don't mind giving something to get something. They'll click on your ads and buy from your store, but they're only going to keep coming back if your site provides them with the information, experience and feel they've come to expect from your network and shows. And only if it doesn't take them five minutes to track down that Everyday Italian recipe.

Come back tomorrow for part two of the series, which will look at the Food Network's approach to social networking and consumer-generated content. I really promise to try and make tomorrow's post a bit shorter!



Happy Xmas!
Tuesday, December 25, 2007 | posted by Mike

I hope you had fun...

If you're not too tired of the seasonal music, here's one more:

Just wanted to let you all know that, with the short week, we're going to be running a three-part TVFF Special Series: Food Network and the Internet. Be sure to check back for that!

Happy Holidays,

"Kitchen Confidential" on hulu.com
Friday, December 21, 2007 | posted by Mike

Don't know what hulu.com is? No worries...it's still an invitation-only BETA right now, but you'll be hearing more about it once it does go "live." It's an online video partnership between NBC Universal and News Corp (i.e. Fox) that will allow you to watch television programs on demand. One of the snazzy features is that you're also able to embed the videos in other sites.

Like I said, it's in BETA now, so you can only go to their site and ask to be added. I was lucky enough to snag an invite, so I've been poking around a bit. They have a whole bunch of current shows (The Office, Heroes, The Simpsons, Kitchen Nightmares) as well as older shows no longer on the air (Arrested Development, Hill Street Blues, The Bob Newhart Show). They even have some movies.

One of the shows that's featured on the site is Kitchen Confidential, the short-lived by enjoyable series based upon Anthony Bourdain's book. I wrote about it a while back, and suggested that you check it out if you get a chance. (Dan at The Hungover Gourmet liked it, too.)

Now, thanks to the embedding feature of hulu, you can watch the first episode below. There are thirteen episodes of KC, so if you enjoy it, you can try and put in for a hulu invite or just hang in there until the service goes live. Think of the first episode as my holiday gift to you!

Speaking of which...I'm going to be busy for the next few days, so there may or may not be any more posts before Christmas. So I'll go ahead right now and wish you all a happy holiday. I hope you enjoy reading TVFF as much as I enjoy bringing it to you. If you feel compelled to offer me and the site some sort of holiday "gift," I'd be thrilled if it was in the form of a note to all of your foodie friends about the site and why they should check it out. If you don't feel like doing that, I also accept cash.

Happy Holidays!


Who's the Genius Who Said Alton's Now the Face of Food Network?
Wednesday, December 19, 2007 | posted by Mike

Oh, that's right.

At Food Network headquarters in Chelsea Market, it's still nothing but Emeril.

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More on That NYT Article
Monday, December 17, 2007 | posted by Mike

Well, the Internets are still abuzz with reaction to that NYT article. OK, not really...but Chow and Ruhlman weigh in and the general feeling with them and here at TVFF is: Well, yeah, we kinda knew that.

I say that not as any kind of indictment of the piece, which featured some genuine scoops and good analysis. It's just that those of us who have been paying close attention have been following the trend for some time, and so it's not a surprise. And the juiciest stuff...the ongoing Mario info...has been covered here and elsewhere at length.

But there were two things that left me scratching my head a bit, and I'm not sure what was behind either of them. The first, however, reminds me one of my pet peeves of political journalism.

First off, there's the rather odd back-and-forth about whether or not Mario's upcoming Spain show was up for inclusion on Food Network before heading for PBS. Here's the relevant part:

Mr. Tuschman of the Food Network said it had passed on that series. “It was not the right fit for us.”

Mr. Batali, who still participates in the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” competition, said the show had not been offered to the Food Network

Now, that just flat out doesn't make sense. Unless there is some sort of misunderstanding involved (e.g. FN was offered the show before Mario's involvement or something like that) they can't both be correct. And yet, this is what the reader is given. I'm not sure why...it may be that the reporter hit a dead end in following up on whose account was accurate.

But this also illustrates one of the failings of objective media coverage. In the pursuit of being "fair and balanced" (ugh), there is a willingness to let each side of an issue have his or her say and then simply present it to the reader. This is all well and good when both sides are being truthful, but it also opens up a false equivalence between someone on one side who is telling the truth and someone on the other who is not.

I'm not saying that's the case here. And, as I said, it may be the result of some misunderstanding. But the way it is presented in the article certainly leaves the reader with an impression that there is a conflict there and that one side is being less than truthful -- without any greater insight or explanation. Just leaving it out there as a Bob-said-Mario-said isn't helpful.

The second thing that really caught my eye was this quote from Food Network President Brooke Johnson:
Ms. Johnson called “Top Chef” a copy of “The Next Food Network Star,” but “without the care about the food content, which we bring to everything we do.”
OK. My first issue with this quote is that comparing the relative originality of reality competition shows is kind of pointless at this juncture. It's been almost eight years since the debut of Survivor, the modern originator of reality competition, and nearly six since the first American Idol, whose "win the competition and win a record deal" model both shows most closely resemble. And with shows looking for the next great model, designer and whatever else populating each night of the week, claiming "originality" isn't the most compelling argument.

The second issue here is her characterization that Top Chef doesn't "care about the food content." If anything, Top Chef is painfully obsessed with the food content, sometimes to the detriment of the show, which can feel elitist to those of us who don't dine in three star restaurants every week. The Next Food Network Star can do a lot of things Iron Chef can't... it's fun, populist, engaging, human and it features people with whom FN's audience can relate. But it's just not going to win a foodie-cred pissing match with Iron Chef.

For some reason, I can't get out of my head the idea that this assertion is somehow related to or reflected in the Anthony Bourdain announcement from last week. Unfortunately, I'm not usually invited to the Food Network Publicity Department Brainstorming Retreat (sounds like fun...do you think they go bowling?), so I'm still having trouble seeing the big picture. Guess I'll just have to keep groping around that elephant.

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Rachael Re-Ups

As mentioned in our post last night referencing the report in the New York Times, Food Network today announced that they have re-signed Rachael Ray to a new two-year deal. Here are the details, from FN's press release.
Food Network and Rachael Ray have agreed to a two-year deal for a new primetime series, Rachael’s Vacation launching in January 2008, as well as 60 new episodes per year of popular daytime series 30 Minute Meals, it was announced today by Brooke Johnson, President, Food Network. Additional terms of the arrangement were not disclosed. Food Network is a part of Scripps Networks, owned by the Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps Company (NYSE:SSP).

“Rachael is the quintessential example of the homegrown stars we create at Food Network,” said Johnson. “She has been with us since 2001 and we have built a strong partnership that will continue for years to come and bring more new and exciting projects.”

Rachael’s Vacation, premiering January 12 at 9 PM ET/PT, follows Rachael as she takes time to sneak away and have a vacation. Viewers will follow as she discovers the distant cities, countries, foods, and lifestyles that continue to amaze and excite her. On this international odyssey, Rachael’s motto is “can do” travel. From pubs in Dublin to markets in Bordeaux, from a fairy tale carriage ride in Lisbon to a marathon of tapas in Barcelona, Rachael charts her course for exciting finds near and far. In every episode, viewers will experience the hip, fun, and funky places she loves; with her ideas, info and tips on where to holiday whether for globe trotting or weekending. She will also visit bookstores, house-ware haunts, shoe shops, and boutiques; plus street festivals, museums, and farmers’ markets.

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New York Times Article on Food Network
Sunday, December 16, 2007 | posted by Mike

Be sure to check out a very interesting article in the New York Times about the Food Network.

It gives a nice summary of the state of the Network and includes a couple of tidbits, including a new deal with Rachael Ray, " to be announced Monday, [which] calls for her to make 13 episodes of a new prime-time travel show, called “Rachael’s Vacation.” But she will cut back on “30 Minute Meals,” to 60 new episodes a year from 80."

It also has this interesting piece of information regarding Mario's upcoming series with Gwyneth Paltrow:

Mr. Tuschman of the Food Network said it had passed on that series. “It was not the right fit for us.”

Mr. Batali, who still participates in the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” competition, said the show had not been offered to the Food Network.

Well, they can't both be right, can they?

The article presents some of the challenges faced by the Network, including increased competition from other networks and some slippage in viewership. But the piece also acknowledges the strong brand reputation and possibilities for new shows, including one about the Neely barbecue restaurant in Memphis, a family which we talked about earlier this year.

I will have some more reflections on this tomorrow. In the meantime, be sure to scroll down for our visit to the Food Network Store!



TVFF Field Report: Food Network Store at Chelsea Market Baskets

Not too long ago, we brought you word of the opening of the new Food Network Store, “the first retailer beyond Food Network’s online store to provide physical space and sell Food Network products including DVDs and cookbooks.” The operation, which opened in November, is a partnership between the Network and Chelsea Market Baskets, a gourmet and specialty food business that occupies the space across from Food Network’s office in Manhattan’s Chelsea Market. On a recent trip to New York (yeah, we’re full of those lately!), we had a chance to check out the store and speak with David Porat, the head of Chelsea Market Baskets.

Located in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, Chelsea Market is “a one stop culinary food shop, a gourmet lover's wholesale-retail wonder world, and an energetic, industrial-chic hotspot, all meshed into a million square feet of space, along an historical 800-foot concourse on the most unique city block in Manhattan.” Chelsea Market Baskets, which also includes wholesale and mail-order/web businesses, is located across the main concourse from the Food Network headquarters and features a fully-branded corner of the store devoted to a variety of FN-related merchandise. Expertly arranged and grouped roughly according to chef, the space attracted a number of interested shoppers while I was there.

The biggest and most prominent display was that of Rachael Ray products, including the always-popular garbage bowl. There was also a television that was used to loop one of the many DVDs available at the store. Paula Deen has her own cabinet – suitably Southern and rustic – filled with a variety of products, including her jarred sauces.

The two most common items in the Food Network store are “wearables,” including t-shirts and other apparel, and cookbooks. For many of the chefs, they feature one or two of the most recent cookbooks. The collection is by no means comprehensive…anyone who goes in to a Barnes & Noble or browses Amazon would know that Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee would constitute an entire section themselves.

Mr. Porat said that the idea for the Food Network store came up about six months ago, when he began working with representatives from the Network on the idea. The space opened in November and covers approximately 150 square feet of the store’s layout. According to Porat, the most popular items to date have been the wearable items, including the aprons. The books are also one of the bigger sellers. I asked him if there were any plans to use the space as a location for celebrity books signings. Although nothing is planned at this time, in-person events could be a possibility in the future.

You can check out the photos of the Food Network Store below, and I certainly suggest you swing by if you’re in the area. While checking out the Food Network Store is cool, the rest of Chelsea Market Baskets may be just as big an attraction. Filled with a huge variety of fantastic gourmet imports, ingredients and items, there’s something there for every foodie. How did I know they were carrying quality products? Well, they featured La Colombe coffee, so that was a good sign.

The displays also do a fantastic job of letting you know the story behind the products, such as the shortbread cookies imported from Scotland. And, from talking to Mr. Porat, it looks like there is even more good stuff coming, with planned additions to the retail space and the addition of a new signage and an entryway off of 15th street.

Funny story: About a week and a half after I visited the store, I was at the day job and, as happens this time of year, one of our vendors sent along a holiday gift to my department. It was opened up and put out for everyone, with crackers, nuts, dried fruit and some fantastic Vermont cheddar. Where did the basket come from? You guessed it…Chelsea Market Baskets.



Bourdain Back on Food Network
Thursday, December 13, 2007 | posted by Mike

Food Network will reprise original series A Cook’s Tour this December, it was announced today by Bob Tuschman, Senior Vice President, Programming and Production for Food Network. The series, featuring outspoken chef Anthony Bourdain, returns to Food Network with a Christmas Day Marathon, airing four back-to-back episodes on Tuesday, December 25th from 9-11pm ET/PT. The series will then join the primetime lineup in its new timeslot on Tuesday, January 8th at 10:30pm ET/PT.

"Anthony Bourdain is a passionate foodie who has amazing stories to share as he takes viewers on a unique tour of our planet" said Tuschman. “We look forward to introducing new viewers to this memorable Food Network series and know they will enjoy Anthony's unique voice and unforgettable adventures.”
I hope to have a little more to say about this later.

If I had been offered the opportunity to bet my next paycheck on the fact that Anthony Bourdain would never again appear on Food Network, I would have done it in a heartbeat.

And that's why I'm not a gambling man...

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Get an Early Look at Jamie Oliver on Iron Chef America
Wednesday, December 12, 2007 | posted by Mike

Well, we all know that Jamie Oliver is coming back to the Food Network. The show will debut a month from today on Saturday, January 12 at 9:30 am. Ugh...helooooooo, DVR!

That's good news.

Here's even better news: If you just can't bring yourself to wait until the 12th, you can check out Jamie on Sunday, January 6 at 10 pm when he competes against Mario Batali on an episode of Iron Chef America.

Should be a blast. That's about as much personality as you can cram into Kitchen Stadium, and their backgrounds promise big flavors for the judges. I will be highly disappointed if Jamie doesn't break out the mortar and pestle. Let's just hope he doesn't sing.

Obviously, this special appearance will be used to promote the new show, Jamie At Home (capitalized "At" theirs, not mine). Maybe you're thinking to yourself: "I wish someone would tell me why I should watch this new program!"

Tuschman to the rescue:
“Jamie Oliver has always been a Food Network fan-favorite and we are so excited to have a new series that showcases his easily accessible cooking style and his exuberant personality,” said Bob Tuschman, Senior Vice President, Programming and Production for Food Network. “His new show focuses on recipes that are quick, fresh, inventive and easy to recreate at home.”

Jamie Oliver returns to Food Network with his new series Jamie At Home. Jamie's back doing what he does best - cooking at home with simple, accessible ingredients, including fruits and vegetables that he recently started growing in his garden kitchen. In each episode, Jamie focuses on a specific ingredient and shows viewers several completely different recipes. Whether whipping up a delicious spicy pork goulash, foraging for mushrooms to create a wild mushroom and venison stroganoff or harvesting pumpkins for a mouth-watering, warm winter salad of roast duck and pumpkin, Jamie will show viewers that using fresh ingredients can be simple and oh so satisfying.

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Hometown Paper: "Hands Off Paula Deen!"
Tuesday, December 11, 2007 | posted by Mike

First off: au revoir Deglazing. We'll miss you!

In other news, the United Food and Commercial Workers union has been picketing Paula Deen because of her status as spokeswoman for Smithfield. I really don't know why, and I'm frankly too busy to bother and find out.

However, if you feel so inclined, you can get the local newspaper's editorial board's opinion on the whole matter!

In a defense kinda reminds one of that "leave Britney alone" video, the editorial says that the protesters should stop picketing Paula's restaurant because, well, she's Paula Deen and she's the bestest thing since fried butter!

The editorial isn't going to win anyone a Pulitzer, but I guess we can to give him a "home town" mulligan on this.

Normally, we loooooove us a good protest, but showing up chef's hats? Amateurs. Talk to the PETA folks and hit the costume rental shop!



Out to Lunch
Monday, December 10, 2007 | posted by Mike

I'm not sure why, but I was in a little bit of a funk today. It may have been my unsuccessful first attempt at building a fire last night. It may have been the inevitable letdown after a fun and eventful long weekend.

But it wasn't because my significant other just dropped $35K on a lunchbox.

From Snack:

I kid! It was for a good cause.

Oh, and did you catch the "blink-and-you-missed-it" cameo by Mario?

Grub Street has more
, including chats with Batali and Tom Colicchio.

In case you're wondering, the coolest lunchbox I ever had:

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TVFF Field Report: "Shopping with Chefs" Event
Sunday, December 09, 2007 | posted by Mike

Last week, we told you about an exciting opportunity to attend an event at the brand new Sub-Zero/Wolf showroom in Manhattan featuring Chefs Jill Davie and David Myers of Shopping with Chefs. We were also thrilled to be able in include a couple of TVFF readers for a fun night of wine, food and cooking demonstrations in an impressive setting.

Perhaps the most interesting moment of the evening was what I saw when I arrived. As I entered the showroom, I could see in the main demonstration area that Chefs Davie and Myers were doing their own prep work for the evening. That’s dedication to craft! I was introduced to them briefly, but figured it was best to leave them to their work.

The showroom was quite impressive, with state of the art ovens, refrigerators, ranges and wine cellars arrayed around the room and integrated into a number of different decors. I had a tough time imaging many of the appliances in my own kitchen, mainly because a couple of the appliances were actually as large as my kitchen. A number of the gadgets that had been recommended during episodes of Shopping with Chefs were also displayed around the room.

The crowd grew and the beginning of the demonstration grew closer, so we headed for a seat up front. The display area had a long bar with stools, but we headed for a counter a few feet behind that where you could stand and watch. I regretted not grabbing the stools because the chefs went without microphones and it got a bit difficult to hear them.

The demonstration itself was fun, with both Davie and Myers showing that they’re as adept at talking their way through a recipe as they are at executing it. The display area featured two large flat-screen monitors that took the place of the more common overhead mirrors. The menu for the evening was:

  1. Chef Myers – Butternut squash soup flavored with cardamom
  2. Chef Myers – Seared tuna au poivre garnished with dried olives
  3. Chef Davie – Chicken liver pâté
  4. Chef Davie – Chocolate fondue flavored with spices and cognac and served with dried fruit (leftovers from a gift basket, she suggested)

Servers brought around samples of each of the dishes, which were very good. The demonstrations themselves were loose and interactive, with people asking questions along the way. I had a chance to ask Chef Davie how to test the doneness of the chicken livers that she was searing, and she demonstrated the commonly-used “palm technique” for testing doneness of meat.

The real treat of the evening, however, was after the demonstration when I had a chance to chat with Chefs Myers and Davie. Upon introducing myself, Chef Davie confirmed my biggest worry of the evening…she had, in fact, seen the “fun with screen captures” post I had a few weeks ago. She was tremendously good-natured about it, although the fact that I turned bright red may have had something to do with it.

The two have a fantastic and playful rapport with one another, which is funny considering that they’re rarely on screen as the same time during the show. They downplayed their “TV celebrity” status and seemed genuinely down-to-earth. They also passed along some great news when they told me that they’ve just begun filming new episodes and that the chefs will have even more input into the recommendations this season.

The chefs were good enough to pose for a photo (which you can see up there on the left) and then the TVFF group (including NY Bureau Chief Jessica) headed over to enjoy some of the fondue. As we were hanging out and dunking dried dates into the chocolate, Chef Davie came by and chatted with us for about fifteen minutes, filling us in on her recent appearances, including Martha Stewart’s radio show and Tyra Banks’ talk show.

It’s clear, both when watching the show and seeing them in person, that Chefs Davie and Myers are polished food personalities with the potential for success in a wide variety of television formats – be it food lifestyle or cooking demonstration programs. Throughout the evening – whether it was while prepping their ingredients, interacting with the attendees during the demonstration or during relaxed conversations towards the end of the evening – they showed the easy likability and serious cooking chops that elevate Shopping with Chefs above most cooking shows out there.

(Check out the rest of the evening's photos in the slideshow below. Click any of them to see the larger version.)

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Best Week Ever: Not a Fan of the Rachael Ray
Friday, December 07, 2007 | posted by Mike


Oh, and Jezebel thinks she's heading for divorce...or something.



Still Recovering

The definition of "wise planning" very well may be the fact that I put in to take a personal day on the day after last night's awesome Shopping with Chefs event in NYC. I'm still recovering from the festivities (which included a few drinks after the event, as well), which is not surprising since I didn't get home until after 2 a.m. on a day that included me getting up at my usual time (5:50 a.m., in case you're wondering) and working a half a day down in Philly.

So...there won't be any posts about the event today. But I do promise you a full write-up and some awesome pictures some time late this weekend, so it will be there to kick off your new week.

In the meantime, go check out endless simmer, a great "all things food" blog that has been filling up my reader with all kinds of fantastic stuff ever since I discovered it when Brendan, one of the contributors, wrote to give me some tips on my DC Dining Dilemma. Their site has bunch of posts about food TV, but you should go ahead and just check out the whole site...otherwise, you would have missed out on this photo.

Great, now I'm hungry...



"Edible Enemies" Follow-Up: The Allergy Cookbook
Wednesday, December 05, 2007 | posted by Mike

One thing that I learned early on with this site is that you never know what topic will strike a chord. You'll post something that you think will elicit plenty of feedback and traffic and it falls flat. And then you'll put something up that generates lots of traffic, comments and e-mails.

The perfect example of that would be the post we did about the Food Network special, Edible Enemies, which examined the "mysterious increase in both the number and the severity of food allergies in the United States." We saw a whole bunch of traffic from people searching on the show and our post was linked a couple of times from folks in the very active community that discusses the difficulty of living with allergies (and, perhaps more importantly, children with allergies).

We got a note from Irene, a reader who was hoping to track down the cookbook written by the mother of a child with allergies that was mentioned in the special. Although we weren't able to come up with the info ourselves, the folks at Food Network were able to get us the details from the show's producer.

The cookbook is called The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook by Cybele Pascal. Bonus Fun Fact: She's married to Broadway actor Adam Pascal.

We in the TVFF household are lucky enough to not have allergy issues, although TVFF's Sister-in-Law gave us a scare after an unfortunate run-in with a pignoli cookie. But I can only imagine how difficult and challenging this could be, particularly if it's a child and if there are multiple allergies.

So, if you or someone you know is dealing with allergies, check out the book. You can click up there on the right to check out the reviews, which are pretty good. As usual, we at TVFF get a nice little commission if you buy it (or anything else) from the links to Amazon products and the "TVFF Store," so feel free to buy a copy for each and every on of your friends this holiday season!



Bourdain in Philadelphia Recap

As you may remember, we hemmed and hawed and finally decided that we weren't going to the Anthony Bourdain appearance at the Free Library of Philadelphia. On of the deciding factors was that I knew it was going to be a madhouse, which it was, with part of the crowd having to watch the proceedings via closed circuit.

Fortunately, a member of TVFF Nation was there and filed a report! The link was passed along to us by the author, Reverend Xenakaboom,
Ministress of Earthly Counseling for The First Church of Common Sense
(but you can call her Kathy). The Good Rev. starts of with an open (and somewhat combative) letter from a Philadelphian to Bourdain, and then gives a complete rundown of the day's festivities, including having her book signed by the celebrity chef. The post is fantastic, and I suggest you give it a read when you get a chance.

One or two of the highlights:

The questions followed a basic formula. "You have changed my life by [witty explanation]. I would like to follow up with: [Choose One: Animal, Vegetarians or Mineral Rights]". Seriously, the questions focused on the political, food or desire. The food questions were alien to me; I could give a rat's ass about the slow cook movement, or the role of organic food in the ascendancy of the Whole Foods Market.


The other question that piqued my interest was the reference to his withering critique of the US Embassy's (non) reaction to the 2006 Beirut uprising. Oh, boy, they were pissed. "Seriously, though," he noted, "for five or six days, every time I called, I heard a recording. 'Your call is very important to us. If you have an immediate question, you can reach us on the Web at ---". His assessment of the U.S. Marines, on the other hand, was, dare I say it, worshipful and gushing. "The Marines are like the poets of the English language. They invented most of the curse words."

BIG thanks to Reverand Xenakaboom for sharing her experience with us!



You're Invited: Sub-Zero/Wolf Event in NYC with "Shopping with Chefs" Stars Jill Davie and David Myers
Tuesday, December 04, 2007 | posted by Mike

I'm sure you all saw the "TVFF Field Report" of the Rachael Ray appearance that we posted earlier in the week. What we didn't mention was the fact that it was the first in a series of a couple of reports that we would be filing in the coming week or two. I'm proud to let you know that I'm also going to be covering an event featuring the stars of a show that regular readers will know that I really enjoy, Shopping with Chefs. The event that I'll be covering is an appearance by Chefs Davie (also of Next Iron Chef) and Myers at the opening of the new Sub-Zero/Wolf flagship showroom in midtown Manhattan this Thursday evening, December 6th from 6-8pm.

Well, it just got even better. Thanks to the generosity of the demonstration's organizers, I'm thrilled to offer the opportunity to attend this exclusive, by-invitation-only event free to TV Food Fan readers! That's right...you'll have the opportunity to check out high-end kitchen equipment, see live cooking demonstrations from the stars of Shopping with Chefs, enjoy cocktails and hors d'oeuvres and meet Mr. TVFF himself. (If that last part doesn't get you there, I don't know what will.) According to the invite:

To celebrate the showroom’s debut, there will be lots of food (of course) from Traditional Home magazine and cooking demonstrations by the Fine Living Network’s “Shopping With Chefs” stars Jill Davie (Josie in L.A.) and David Myers (Sona in L.A.).

Here's the deal. E-mail me ASAP at mike@tvfoodfan.com and send me your name and I'll have it put on the invitation list. Tickets are limited, so these will be on a first-come-first-served basis. I will respond to your e-mail and let you know that you have the tickets, and you will then receive an invitation and directions via e-mail from the event folks.

I look forward to hearing from you!



Jamie Oliver Has a Novelty Song...

...and it's terrible.

And it's about lamb curry! Normally, I have no problem with the dish. Heck, I had a pretty tasty lamb vindaloo at Mehek in Princeton a few weeks back, but this might be enough to put me off it for a while.

The song is officially called "Give it to Me Hot (Lamb Curry)."

I think the video speaks for itself.

OK, a little bit more, from the This is London article:

Give It To Me Hot (Lamb Curry), a lyrical version of a recipe, has made him a star in Thailand, Singapore and the Czech Republic and attracted 150,000 hits on YouTube.

Wait -- what? I suppose I get the Thailand and Singapore part, but the Czech Republic?!?!



Do You Enjoy TV Food Fan?
Monday, December 03, 2007 | posted by Mike

Then go tell them so here!

(And be sure to let them know why you like it.)

This concludes today's shameless groveling. For our archived groveling, please click here.

P.S. - Be sure to scroll down to hear all about our trip to see Rachael Ray's Dunkin' Donuts event in NYC!

TVFF Field Report: Rachael Ray’s Dunkin Donuts Event
Sunday, December 02, 2007 | posted by Mike

I was up bright and early and braving the windswept streets of Hell’s Kitchen (this one, not this one) this past Saturday to cover the Rachael Ray/Dunkin’ Donuts “Gingerbread Express” event in New York City. The festivities were held in the New York Waterways Terminal and featured the kick-off of a national card drive to support Soldiers’ Angels, as well as the unveiling of Dunkin’ Donuts’ donation of one ton of coffee to service-people deployed around the world.

The event was held at the Waterways Terminal, which is where the ferries from New Jersey dock. Riders were greeted by servers clad in Dunkin’ Donuts scarves and Santa hats serving samples of hot chocolate and gingerbread lattes (pretty tasty). The visitors were invited into the main room, where cards were available for them to write messages to men and women serving in the armed forces.

The crowd grew a bit and, after a little while, Rachael Ray came out and greeted the crowd. She spent a few minutes in one-on-one interviews with a couple of folks from the press before disappearing backstage. Jon Luther, the CEO of Dunkin’ Brands, took to the stage and introduced Rachael as “brand ambassador” before correcting himself and saying “beloved brand ambassador,” which elicited a shout of “Thanks, Jon!” from Rachael backstage.

Out came Rachael, who told the crowd that she was thankful for the chance to be there, and proud to be representing Dunkin’ Donuts. She said that she was particularly proud of the fact that they had eliminated trans-fats from their products and admitted that possibly the best part of the deal was that she got free coffee. She spoke about the cards, which she called “the best gift service people can get this year – a hug.” She spoke a bit about Soldiers’ Angels and the work that they did.

In addition to the one-ton donation, customers at Dunkin’ Donuts stores will be able to fill out cards just like the ones at the event. The cards will be included in care packages sent to service-people during the holiday season.

The crowd seemed really excited for the chance to see Rachael Ray in person. Being up close to Rachael Ray made me acutely aware of her tremendous skills as a brand spokes-person. During the interviews she was giving, it was clear that she was getting in all of the important information into the conversation, which should be surprising when you consider that she is someone who became famous for explaining multi-step recipes quickly, clearly and concisely.

We had our trust point-and-click with us and we were able to capture a couple of photos, with admittedly mediocre results. Hey, this blog is about food TV, not photography. Check out the pics below…you can click to see the full-size version.



Hi, I'm Mike and I created TVFoodFan.com as a place where you can come to get the latest news and views about what’s going on in the world of culinary television.

Contact Us at: mike@tvfoodfan.com

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